Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Review of "The Fragrant Concubine" by Melissa Addey - an Uygur legend and a conflicting Chinese one.

The novel is based on a Chinese and an Uygur legend from the days that China invaded the Uygur region. Even today we see people applying from asylum blaming to be oppressed by the now communists Chinese government but in those days it was also a battle of beliefs where a Buddhist empire conquered a Muslim principality.

Lets start with a look at Wikipedia:

Fragrant Concubine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Khoja Iparhan/Fatimah binti Ali Khojam
Consort Rong dressed in Manchu Clothes.JPG
Portrait of the Fragrant Concubine by Giuseppe Castiglione
Born11 October 1734
Died24 May 1788 (aged 53)
SpouseQianlong Emperor
HouseXojam (by birth)
Aisin Gioro (by marriage)
The Fragrant Concubine (Chinese: 香妃; pinyin: Xiāng Fēi; Uyghur: ئىپارخان‎ / Iparxan / Ипархан) is a figure in Chinese legend who was taken as a consort by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century. Although the stories about her are believed to be mythical, they may have been based on an actual concubine from western China who entered the imperial harem in 1760 and received the title "Imperial Consort Rong" (容妃; Róng Fēi). Han Chinese and Uyghur tellings of the legend of the Fragrant Concubine diverge greatly, and her experience represents a powerful symbol for both figures. The story became greatly popular during the early 20th century and has since been adapted into several plays, films, and books.

Chinese legend

Although accounts vary as to some details, the basic story among Han Chinese recounts the discovery by the Qianlong Emperor of a Uyghur woman named Iparhan ("Musky Woman"), the granddaughter of Afaq Khoja, a local leader in the oasis city of Kashgar. Even more remarkable than her beauty was the scent her body naturally produced; captivated, the emperor sought her as an Imperial Consort for his harem. She was given as a gift to the emperor and carefully escorted all the way to the imperial palace in Beijing, washing every day along the road in camel's milk to preserve her mysterious fragrance.
Upon her arrival at the imperial palace, the Fragrant Concubine was given a garden and a luxurious room as a sign of the Qianlong Emperor's devotion. Homesick and distraught, she remained disconsolate as the emperor made ever-increasing efforts to recreate her distant village, building her a mosque, miniature oasis, and bazaar outside her windows in an effort to bring her happiness. Finally she relented and came to love him when he sent messengers to Kashgar to return with a jujube tree bearing golden fruit, and the Fragrant Concubine became the emperor's cherished consort until her death. An enduring symbol of national unity and reconciliation, her body was brought back to her home of Kashgar, where she is now entombed, in a procession of 120 bearers in a journey that took over three years.

Uyghur legend

Contemporary Uyghur renditions of the legend are considerably less romantic. She was the child of the ruler of the Yarkent Khanate and her name was Nur Ela Nurhan.[1] Taken away to the imperial palace in Beijing by the Qianlong Emperor, Iparhan arms herself with daggers up her sleeves, on guard against the hated advances of the emperor, until finally she was poisoned.[2]

Apak Khoja and Fragrant Concubine Tomb

Imperial Consort Rong's tomb in the Eastern Qing tombs
The Afaq Khoja Mausoleum (mazar) located outside Kashgar was built in 1640 and, in addition to encompassing a larger complex that includes a functioning mosque and madrasa, houses the coffins of five generations of the Afak Khoja family, including what is purported to be the body of the Fragrant Concubine. In fact, the real Imperial Consort Rong died of illness on 24 May 1788 and was buried in an imperial tomb in Beijing; the legend of the Fragrant Concubine first became closely associated with the Kashgar tomb in the late 19th century, and the connection has since been officially established and endorsed through a proliferation of signs and guided tours.[citation needed]

Source Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fragrant_Concubine

The Novel "The Fragrant concubine" by Melissa Addey

Writer Melissa Addey wondered how both legends could be so vastly different even when you consider the political implications of the era. She wondered if there could be a version in which both are true.

In the story Iparhan is a Muslim princess who sees her country invaded by the Chinese on the eve of her wedding and in no time she looses her home and her parents. Longing to take revenge on the emperor she hopes to swap places with a cousin who is sent to the Chinese court as a concubine for the emperor. But when that is no longer possible she captures a beggar girl who looks remarkably like her.

Someone once said that revenge is a double-edged sword. Her drive for revenge turns Iparhan into a crazy woman, I think, who destroys everyone who cares for her, and becomes a ruthless killer.

The girl she captures is dead poor and in the beginning does not object that much to the idea of a life in luxury but then is more and more scared by the madwoman.

Things get really complicated when Hidligh is at court and realises she loves the emperor and made good friends and wants to do everything to keep them save but on the other hand will lose her own life if it ever comes clear she was send to the palace to spy. The result is a very thrilling tale with dangers lurking everywhere.

I am not so familiar with Chinese history so the whole setting was intriguing as well. The Forbidden City is nothing like a Middle Eastern harem: all the concubines have their own palaces and most of the time the emperor will come to have dinner there and some horizontal sport. The women are also less secluded. What sounded so alien to me was that one's name changed with promotions and the emperor was not mentioned by his name after he had become emperor.

Life could be tragic or blissful depending on what the women wanted: some are completely forgotten by the emperor and really lonely and miserable others share a happy lesbian life glad he is not paying them any attention. Others cling to power because they want their child to be the next emperor. Or like the Empress and Hidligh are in love with the man but that is not necessary mutual.

In the end the writer composed the solution for both legends.

I really liked the novel. The story is thrilling and nerve-racking and the cultural setting is interesting.

A 5 stars out of 5.

A selection of Native American romance novels (All read for free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription)

Confined to bed with an inflamed larynx and a dose of penicillin  I tried to get my mind occupied by something entertaining to read. The theme is love stories involving Indians.

Captive by Colleen French

A few weeks before the outbreak of the war between England and France in America Tess is kidnapped by Mohawks. After she manages to escape she befriends Raven who is a Lanape. He promises to bring her back to her home. But then prejudice and war get in the way.
Well written romance with a lot of things happening in it that keep you reading. Some bedscenes but in small doses. Takes time to explain the political situation of those days - we even see George Washington passing by - and how the whites dealt with women who had been captured by the natives.

4 stars out of 5

Forbidden Caress by Colleen French

This novel by the same author and set in the same setting is less interesting. The daughter of an English reverent follows her fiance to the colonies. En route to his home he ransacked an Indian burial site and when the Indians attack him for doing that he leaves his fiancee behind and runs off. The fiancee is taken prisoner and the first half of the novel is spend on does he loves me or does he not and vice versa. What I found quite unbelievable is the idea to go and live all alone in a cabin while severely handicapped and with roaming hostile Indian tribes in the area. Safety in numbers and all. For an American romance novel it is kind of surprising to see gay people mentioned and a transsexual a revered friend and that in a novel written in the 1980ties according to Goodreads although Amazon mentions 2017. (By the way I have read years ago that transsexuality was not frowned upon amongst the Indian).

3 stars out of 5

Walks With Him: Comanche Bride (Native Brides Book 1) by Elle Marlow 

All stereotypes of the great plains Indians are mentioned horses buffalo hunts etcetera and I am not certain things are represented historically correct. Feels a bit as a young adult tale with some bedscenes. And to think you can understand a language in just a few days! I travelled the Middle East for 5 weeks and could come up with good morning, a few numbers and coffee and tea and thank you.

A 2 stars out of 5 

When The Wind Blows: A Story of Love by J.R. Case

Very well written story about a woman who sets off to the Dakota plains. She and her husband had been rich but he spent all their money. His new dream is homesteading in the West. She is in a very unhappy marriage but out in the wilderness Clive works hard and the rich girl starts to enjoy the project. But then she is left alone in the wilderness with only the sheriff visiting once a month and a mysterious Indian looking at her from afar. She never sees that man as a threat but considers him her visitor.
Unlike many of these novels no instant love but a story that builds up slowly and spends a lot of time on day to day chores. It becomes obvious how much work running a farm in the middle of nowhere was in those days and in that climate. (A friend of mine is from that area and always is telling about the harsh winters).  I found it interesting and endearing. There is explicit sexual activity and some of that might be a trigger for people who have a history of sexual violence.

Definitely a 5 stars out of 5

By the way did you know that quite a lot of guys read a romance novel when they can disguise it as a book their wife or girlfriend bought and left on the table? 

Monday, 22 April 2019

ARC review of "Of fire and lions" by Mesu Andrews - the story of the Jewish prince deported to Babylon

For those amongst us with a Jewish or a Christian upbringing the story of Daniel (in the lionpit) will be familiar. Young Jewish prince Daniel is deported to Babylon after the conquest of Jerusalem and become a high advisor of first the Babylonian king and later the Persian one.

In this novel mrs Andrews gives Daniel a (fictional) wife. We follow not only the known biblical events but also see their world from the eyes of the wife for instance as her serving as a high priestess of a local religion, the eunuch system in government and other things. And of course the events mentioned in the bible: the throwing in an oven, the illness of the king, the lionpit and all the dreams.

Although it is a book written by a Christian person it is not overdoing it like some American novels can what normally makes me sooner think of blasphemy. It is an entertaining read and if someone is inspired to read the original by it all the better.

A four stars out of 5

Of Fire and Lions
by Mesu Andrews
Pub Date: 05 Mar 2019 

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Review of "Bones of the Earth" by Eliot Pattison - a detective story set in occupied Tibet

A disgraced Chinese police detective is now released from the prisoncamp he was send to and allowed to serve as a constable in a village in Tibet. His son is however still in a camp and the high Chinese official who ordered his release has still a firm grip on his life. Near his town a hydro dam is built in a valley that has been sacred to the local people since all times and what is regarded by the local people as Gekho's roost, a local demon God. An executed Tibetan engineer, an American student who died in a car accident, a dead man in the sky train all seem to have a link with this hydro dam project. Chan is ordered to solve the case.

When I was on about 20% of the book I was thinking it reminded me so much of a novel I had read years ago. A fact finding discovery to my bookshelves produced the first novel in this series. This book is the 10th.

The series is set in Tibet and it is clear the writer has a lot of sympathy with the Tibetan people and their culture and detests the occupation and harsh suppression by Beijing.

It might sound strange but due to all the deities and demons and the for me unfamiliar Buddhist religion and Tibetan and Chinese culture and the harsh neglect of human rights and rule of law it felt most of the time as if I was reading a fantasy novel. But then remembering this is real and sometimes we see refugees from Tibet all the way in Europe.

The detective part of the story is nicely done but the real charm is the colour locale.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Review of "A String of Silver Beads (The Moorish Empire Book 2)" by Melissa Addey - Moroccan history centred in Marrakesh

Amazon Summary: North Africa, 1067. Kella is a girl disguised as a boy, travelling the trade routes and beating all comers in the camel races. When her true identity is revealed, she is sent home to the family desert camp to be taught women’s skills. But Kella yearns for her freedom and the excitement of life on the road and when a mighty army sets out on a holy mission, she risks marriage to its general, Yusuf. While Yusuf conquers the whole of North Africa, Kella finds herself a rival to his infamous queen consort, Zaynab, a powerful and jealous woman. Can Kella protect herself and her newborn son? Can she find the freedom she craves as well as love? Second in the Moorish Empire series, this is a new take on a dramatic period of history.

My review:  When you are interested in the history of Morocco but like it told in a good novel this is the book for you. The setting is the founding of the Almoravid dynasty.

The Almoravid dynasty was an imperial Berber Muslim dynasty centered in Morocco. It established an empire in the 11th century that stretched over the western Maghreb and Al-Andalus. Founded by Abdallah ibn Yasin, the Almoravid capital was Marrakesh, a city the ruling house founded in 1062. The dynasty originated among the Lamtuna and the Gudala, nomadic Berber tribes of the Sahara, traversing the territory between the Draa, the Niger, and the Senegal rivers.

Yusuf, his cousin Abu Bakr and Zaynab are all historical figures and are important figures in the conquest of the Mahgreb by the Almoravids dynasty.

The earliest reference to Zaynab is in the anonymous 12th-century text Kitab al-Istibsar, where it says "In her time there was none more beautiful or intelligent or witty ... she was married to Yusuf, who built Marrakech for her"
Her example and the fact that she assisted in creating the dynasty and its customs had great impact on the situation of women in Almoravid Morocco. In the tradition and example of her, women in Morocco had high status during the reign of the Almoravid dynasty; princesses was allowed to participate in state affairs; women in Morocco did not wear veils; the education of women was accepted and normal, with notable women such as Hafsa Bint al-Hajj al-Rukuniyya holding courses for the women of the palace; at least two women known to have been doctors, and, finally, princess Fannu famously participated in the defense of the capital during the dynasty's downfall in 1147 (Wikipedia)

"Zainab was praised for her matchless beauty as well as her skills in governance matters. Though many women lived in the shadow of their husbands at that time, historians report that Zainab Nafzaouia was highly influential in the process of decision making especially in public affairs.
Lotfi Bouchentouf de Zamane reports that Zainab Nafzaouia  has repeatedly intervened in politics. For instance she urged her husband Yusuf Ibn Tachfin to change his status from a mere deputy of Abu Bakr to the title of “Amir al Mouminin”, the prince of believers.
Women living under the Almoravids rule were relatively emancipated in public life. They held a prominent role in society as they were entrusted with governance issues in their households."

Yusuf is portraited in history as a wise and fair man.

In this novel Zaynab is portrayed as a woman who sleeps herself to power and who is terribly jealous. Well the first part seems to be true as she keeps marrying another candidate who seems to qualify for the ruler of the Maghreb but if she was a bad person we will never know.

I think the fictional Kella is described in a genuine way: a girl who saw a lot of the world as a child and teenager and who suddenly is confined to the role of a peasant woman in a camp and who yearns for freedom and travel will be fascinated by a general with a vision to conquer the world. Yusuf seems to be the kind of man who is attracted to smart women who share his vision. But where Kella is a young nomad girl Zaynab is the older and experienced woman and he falls madly in love with her.

I do not agree with the end conclusion in the book on their relationship and the relationship Kella has with her friend from home. Because the book is very detailed apart from the sexual relationship Kella has it is a bit difficult to fathom how intense their bond is. I think Kella was besotted and yes Yusuf was more feeling tenderness towards her while he seems madly in love and under the spell of Zaynab. But the other relationship seems only to me to be love from one side. The ending feels a bit too convenient.

The book is very entertaining and keeps you guessing which of the women will prevail. The story seems to be a romance but towards the second half it is more about the founding of Marrakesh and the power struggles in the new realm. For someone who likes history it was a nice way to get acquainted with Moroccan / Maghreb history of that era.

The title by the way is a reference to the jewellery Kella wears as a Touareg woman. Every chapter is named after an item of  traditional jewellery that is given for certain occasions. The string of silver beads is the only present Kella can give to someone she loves very much.

A 4 stars out of 5

A few books that are FREE today (19th of April)

  A Crafty CrimeBy Eryn Scott

When her deputy sheriff brother investigates a murder, jam maker Hadley can’t help but put her sleuthing skills to the test. Can she infiltrate a knitting club with a tight lid on its secrets? Delectable recipes included!    

 The Rise of Miss NotleyBy Rachael Anderson

Fleeing an unwanted marriage, Coralynn seeks a new life as the housekeeper at Tanglewood Manor — only to develop unexpected feelings for the handsome owner… With over 700 five-star ratings on Goodreads!  

Monday, 8 April 2019

ARC review of "The last loyalty" by Bernadette Lyons - a kind of "Dances with wolves" feeling

This is one of the most touching novels I read in the last couple of months. I was VERY impressed by it. One of those books you hate to have reached the end of. The military part sounds convincing, there is invested in world building and in a growth of the people's minds and characters.

Malcolm Redwing is a captain in the British army and stationed in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. While he was a lonely boy and student he feels very much at home in the army and is best friends with Charlie his bunkmate. Tall, blonde, gregarious, handsome Charlie. Malcolm himself is rather short, had dull brown hair and grey eyes and is not that handsome. He has come to a time in life he has to decide to stay in the army for another couple of years or do what his handsome fiancee Rachel wants and become a civilian. But then his commander asks him to stay in Afghanistan a bit longer and do some covert work in a forwarded base. When Malcolm tells Rachel she turns into a mad cat and tells him she hates him playing soldier and having a hero complex and ends their relationship. Flabbergasted Malcolm changes his next of kin into Charlie and boards the chopper. A  chopper that crash-lands and all Malcolm remembers is sliding into a hole.

When he comes to he is shackled and wounded. A chestnut haired, brown eyed woman is taking care of him. He thinks he must be somewhere deep inland in Afghanistan and is surprised he cannot understand a word of what the people are saying but he hopes and prays they will not hand him to the Taliban.

What he does not know is that he is the first person with grey eyes those people have ever seen. Only gods have grey eyes. They themselves have mostly blue eyes apart from a few people like Jessa the healer who has brown eyes and is thus regarded as a second class citizen. What he also does not know is that the tribe suspect him to be one of "the Others" a mysterious enemy in the south. They plan to torture the truth out of him.

All of a sudden the village is attacked and about to be slaughtered with most men still on a hunt. The leader of the remaining warriors cuts Malcolm free and with his military training he manages to help him save the lives of the villagers.

Malcolm thinks he is lucky. But when he walks out of the tent in the evening he freezes. In the sky are two moons and not a star looks familiar. Malcolm realises he cannot be on earth but has no clue how he got there.

The novel reminded me a lot of stories like "Dances with Wolves" but later on I also recognised the influence of the Mongol and Chinese. It is a nomadic culture centred around horses. The stallion of the herd decides where to go and the mares and the people follow. Also their view on fertility is seen in horse's terms. The women have fillies in their belly and the spirit-sire gives those life. The men of the tribe are normally invited by the women to share their tents on occasion. So it is seen as very strange that Malcolm always sleeps in Jessa's tent even after he is completely healed but no stallion sounds are heard.

Unlike in most modern novels here the relationship between Jessa and Malcolm develops very slowly and genuinely. The same applies for his relationship with the rest of the tribe. Or with us as a reader. You really feel ties to both Jessa and Malcolm.

What is also very well done is the ending. I am not saying a word but let me tell you it is quite uncommon.

I can strongly recommend this novel. It deserves a lot of readers.

And what the last loyalty is? Is it Malcolm's loyalty to the army, the loyalty of the tribe towards him or Jessa's lasting love?

Pub Date: 28 Nov 2018

Review of "Body double". I never realised the tv-series "Rizzoli and Isles" is based on a series of novels

I never realised the tv-series "Rizzoli and Isles" is based on a series of novels written by Tess Gerritsen (Dutch surname comes from her husband's family according to internet).

My neighbour Carla gave me a paperback of "Body double" published in 2004. She warned me she had read it in one go as it was that good. Well I got a inflamed throat so I was not going anywhere anyway.

Doctor Maura Isles comes home one evening from a conference in Paris to find her whole street flooded by policecars and upset neighbours. A lady is found shot in a car and that woman looks exactly like Maura. Maura was adopted so we all jump to the conclusion there might be a family link between those two women.

Then Maura herself gets threatened and this urges her and policewoman Jane Rizzoli to dig into the past.

The book is a very good read and makes you think about how much nature and nurture contributes to how a person develops.

If you are into detective novels this is a 5 stars out of 5.

Dit boek is ook vertaald in het Nederlands en te koop bij Bol.com.

ARC review of "The Neglected Garden" by Suzanne Winterly

Ireland, 2010. Gilly Townsend’s beloved landscaping business has trouble surviving the financial crash and a break up with a boyfriend and her sister about to get married (and wishing she would move out) does not make life more rosy.

Then she is offered a project to restore a neglected walled garden on an country estate near Dublin. The owner is Marc, an English property developer, who lives there with his 4-year old son and his housekeeper. The house is used as a conference centre and the buildings on the estate are rented to tenants.

At first glance it looks all very idyllic but there are dark clouds on the horizon. Marc experienced two traumatic events in his life and is now blackmailed by persons unknown and Gilly and the small boy see a strange white lady.

The novel has some romance elements in it but I was not so impressed. It feels like that comes up from thin air and you see no gradual warming. But that might be just me.
Another aspect of the novel is the mystery part and I did like that. Also thought it well thought through.
What I found really interesting was Marc's time doing business in Japan.
There is a lot of gardening in the book. For people with green thumbs a must I think. In my case sometimes quite lost in translation. As Gilly explains to someone flowers and plants have Latin names because the local names can be very confusing when you cross a border. I can vouch for that :).

Pub Date: 08 Feb 2019
4 stars out of 5

ARC review of "The Sheikh’s Blackmailed Bride" by Leslie North

These kind of novels most of the time have weird and over the top plots with just an overdose of activities in bed. This one however has a little bit more normal setting and is not all about sexual encounters.

An American young woman who owns a wedding planner business attends a reception hosted by her mentor and former boss. At the event she briefly meets a prince from the Middle East. Weeks later when she is deep in her cups and bemoaning a pending bankruptcy of her small company she photoshops a picture of that prince and herself to illustrate her blog.

The next day the post is picked up by the tabloid press and the prince comes to visit her business. He explains that this whole thing can have bad repercussions for both their reputations and that he wants to close a deal with that former boss of hers and could use a bit of help to get in that lady's inner circle. He suggests to just fake the whole thing for a year or so and then have a quiet divorce. However they both find out that they really like the other one.

A simple story. Not bad. Not special. A bit easy to forget. Can be good entertainment when you just want something sweet and light.

Pub Date: 05 Mar 2019

An ARC review is when the publisher sends a novel to someone to write a review about it.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Also #free to download today: The Whicher Series: Books 1 & 2

BOOKS 1 and 2 in the bestselling WHICHER SERIES


Gilman James comes home from Iraq--the last of three childhood friends to return. His brothers-in-arms are mere shadows of their former selves--Gil, unmarked, determines to take care of them. But how far should a man go for the people he loves?

Stepping across the line between right and wrong, Gil finds himself stranded in the Texan desert--as a bank heist he's planned goes horribly wrong. Pursued into the badlands by US Marshal John Whicher, a moment of violent reckoning is set in train.

What makes an outlaw? Marshal John Whicher thinks he knows. But can natural justice ever outrank the law?


John Whicher is a US Marshal, not long out of training - barely twelve months back from serving in the Persian Gulf war. In south Texas, he's working his first case when a multiple shooting on the US / Mexico border leaves five non-documented aliens and one American dead.

The county decides to limit any inquest - money's tight, deaths among illegals are notoriously hard to crack. But Whicher, in his first case, is not about to see justice denied.

The WHICHER SERIES can be read in any order

Praise for The Whicher Series

'A fast-moving, tension filled manhunt...hooks the reader, brilliantly rendered.' Raven Crime Reads

'Having spent time as a USAF Air Policeman riding with Tom Green County Sheriff and the Texas Highway Patrol makes the book more real...' Stevie-Joe, Amazon Reviews

'Powerful, smart, action-packed...'  B. Case, Amazon Top-5OO Reviews

'Relentless...'  murdermayhemandmore

'A classic series in the making... I found the first book in the series compulsive reading. This one is even more compulsive.'   Amazon Reviews
'I've spent decades as a wilderness guide in the southwest, the author brings the badlands to life. One of the best mysteries I've read in years.' RJ Garn, Amazon Reviews, NM

'Captures the very essence of the southwest. Can't wait for the next one.' D.Waite, Amazon Reviews

'Fighting for lives that count, because they all count...' DJ Ryan, Amazon Reviews


Get your #free copy today of a science fiction version of Horatio Hornblower: Midshipman Henry Gallant in Space

As the last starfighter in Squadron 111, only Midshipman Henry Gallant can stop the alien invasion. With the United Planets fleet on the verge of annihilation, Gallant can expect no help as he passes threatening aliens. With so much uncertainty about the aliens, analyzing the captured equipment in his possession is critical.

The fate of Earth could rest on the abilities of Midshipman Henry Gallant. Unfortunately, it is his abilities that are much in doubt.

In an era of genetic engineering, he is the only Natural left in the fleet. His shipmates have all expressed concern that he will not be up to the challenge.

Only bright and attractive junior officer Kelsey Mitchel has shown any sympathy for him. Now as his navigator on the last starfighter in Squadron 111, her life, as well as a good many others, depends on Henry Gallant.

Follow the career of a young officer in the 22nd Century genetically engineered space navy.

For Fans of Honor Harrington and Horatio Hornblower.
(Scource: Amazon)

Disclamer: Have not read it yet myself :)